Happiness is Bad For You
But first, let's define our terms: Happiness was defined, as in the earlier study, by feeling good. The researchers measured happiness by asking subjects questions like “How often did you feel happy?” “How often did you feel interested in life?” and “How often did you feel satisfied?”
This is as opposed to "meaning" which was described as an orientation to something "bigger than your self." Subjects who answered positively to questions like "How often did you feel that your life has a sense of direction or meaning to it?” or “How often did you feel that you had something to contribute to society?” scored higher on the meaningfulness scale.
The authors of the study wrote: "Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided. If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need.”
The researchers observed: that people who are happy but have little to no sense of meaning in their lives — proverbially, simply here for the party — have the same gene expression patterns as people who are responding to and enduring chronic adversity. That is, the bodies of these happy people are preparing them for bacterial threats by activating the pro-inflammatory response. Chronic inflammation is, of course, associated with major illnesses like heart disease and various cancers.
“Empty positive emotions” — like the kind people experience during manic episodes or artificially induced euphoria from alcohol and drugs — ”are about as good for you for as adversity,” says lead researcher Barabara Fredrickson.
Also of note is this concluding statement in the paper's abstract: " human genome may be more sensitive to qualitative variations in well-being than are our conscious affective experiences."